Sorrow And Joy

**

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Feels more like an exercise in personal therapy than a fully fledged film."

There is a moment in Sorrow And Joy when the main character Johannes (Jakob Cedergren) - a filmmaker who is based on writer/director Nils Malmros himself - says: "Film directors dont need criticism. They need to be praised." In which case, I'm afraid he definitely doesn't need this review. It is also quite difficult to criticise a film that is based, at least in part, on such a terrible real-life event - the killing of a baby in a moment of psychosis. But though the child's death is indisputably tragic, this rendering of it into film is largely unsuccessful - perhaps the director, co-writer John Mogensen and others who worked with him were just too close to the situation to keep their critical judgement unclouded.

Things begin badly, with emotions in the opening scene - in which we immediately learn that Johannes' child has been stabbed to death by mum Signe (Helle Fagralid) - set at such a high pitch they are unbelievable. It also marks the oddly muted emotional journey of Johannes himself, whose lack of reaction to events feels merely flat rather than true to life.

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After this, through the all-too-familiar device of a psychiatrist's questioning, we flashback to the start of the couple's relationship at the same time as watching Johannes try to ensure his wife receives treatment in a psychiatric hospital rather than a prison.

The relationship between Johannes and Signe never quite rings true. Malmros tries to paint an unflinching portrait of the director as critical - shorthand for this, he hates Signe's furniture - and emotionally neglectful. The scripting is stilted and revelations come at oddly inappropriate times. For example, as they lie in bed near the start of their relationship, Johannes' idea of pillow talk is to greet his wife's chatter about her past with: "It sounds like a manic depressive psychosis." That he urges her, on what seems like a whim, to tip her medication away is also hard to stomach.

Structurally the cracks show. There's a film within a film element, but everything feels constructed and cheap - more like something made for television than the big screen. The namechecking of festivals also comes across like a cut-price plea to them to now show this movie. Away from the main storyline, the film rambles over the minutae of Johannes' work, which is distracting and extraneous. And, as Signe somehow fades into the background, the screenplay starts to wallow in an unpalatable mixture of grief and lust.

How much of this actually happened and how much is imagined is hard to say but however sincere Malmros' intentions are, it feels more like an exercise in personal therapy than a fully fledged film.

Reviewed on: 29 Jul 2014
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Filmmaker Johannes and his wife, schoolteacher Signe, try to come to terms with unspeakable grief.


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